You've probably seen the pratfall in which someone slips after stepping on a banana peel, which usually brings copious laughter at the expense of the one on his backside. On Tuesday, Mom Nature, wherever she hangs out, was laughing her head off at residents of the Mother Lode.
After a dry and almost springlike beginning in February with temperatures approaching open-the- screen-door-and-air-out-the-house weather, we mountain dwellers should have known better. Complacency had set in, setting us up for that "gotcha" experience.
Never mind the weather forecasts two of three different ones gave four different versions of what to expect that day. I, for one, usually wait for the actual weather event to start, and say, "Well, they were off the mark again."
The day started out overcast but not particularly threatening, I thought. After living through many winters in the mountains although at an elevation that certainly isn't like Donner Summit I still thought it would be prudent for me to drive my wife to her job in Sonora and pick her up after work. She gets nervous about driving in snow or ice between Sonora and Twain Harte.
During the day, nothing weatherwise was happening until about 2 p.m. Then the snow started. A little at first, then increasing in intensity and volume. It became evident that we were in for it.
My wife and I spoke by phone about leaving work early. Schools were scurrying to get their students home by bus and reports of traffic delays and accidents were coming in only two hours after the snow started.
I decided to leave home about 3:30 p.m. and drive to Sonora. By this time, the snowfall was heavy. As I pulled onto the main highway to Sonora, I was immediately part of a conga line snaking its way down the hill, bumper to bumper, not unlike L.A. freeway traffic at 5 p.m. I became a hostage, witness to the many drivers in my lane and oncoming ones who realized too late that their cars were not ready for the onslaught of snow and ice. Vehicles were stranded here and there along the roads, unable to gain traction because they had two-wheel drive and no chains, they may have been going too fast for the conditions, or both.
Even with my all-wheel-drive car, there were icy sections that put my vehicle to the test. I marveled at how much snow had fallen at such a low elevation. Usually the lower regions around Sonora and Jamestown may get just a dusting of snow, but sometimes, such as Tuesday, residents were caught unprepared.
It took me 2½ hours to drive 10 miles. Later I found out that traffic was halted at Jamestown for traffic heading east to Sonora or beyond. Those fortunate or smart enough to be driving four-wheel-drive vehicles could inch up the hill in very icy conditions. The California Highway Patrol was turning aside those without four-wheel drive or chains. I don't know what those people did to get home.
The moral of the story is this: Even if one lives in lower elevations where traveling in hazardous winter conditions is seldom an issue, be prepared by at least carrying and using chains on two-wheel-drive cars. If you don't, you may hear in your head the distant laughter of Mom Nature after you've "slipped on the banana peel."
Kirkbride lives in Twain Harte and writes about Mother Lode and Sierra matters. Send questions or comments to email@example.com.